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Archive for Monday, February 13, 2012

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Double Take: IEP cannot guarantee spot on sports team

February 13, 2012

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Dr. Wes and Miranda: Regarding your recent article on participation in athletics as part of an Individualized Education Program, it appears very possible that the student and parent who wrote in are using the IEP as a vehicle to assure the student’s placement on the middle school volleyball team.  

Please consider what position this places the volleyball coach in. Would he or she be required to place on the team all students that present with that IEP? What happens to students who are more skilled in volleyball? Will they be left off the team to make room for those that may be less skilled but show up at tryouts with an IEP in hand? It seems to me the school administrator is correct in taking the position that “opportunity to participate” is the correct one in this case.

Miranda: I was under the impression that the mom who wrote in simply wanted her daughter involved in some sort of athletic activity, and that the girl was being denied the chance to try. Student athletics should be there to aid students and provide opportunities that enrich their learning experience. If the child benefits from athletic participation but cannot make the team, then the school should allow her to play in an intramural league if available in that district or some other comparable opportunity.

But there’s a difference between participation and competition for available spots on the team. No school district should guarantee a student, even on with an IEP, a spot on a team that they cannot earn themselves. Every school should give every child the opportunity to attempt an extracurricular activity, despite disabilities. However, a disability shouldn’t give a student an advantage — it should just create the same chance every student has.

While I’m sure this volleyball team has been great for the daughter, if she doesn’t earn her spot, there are many other athletic opportunities she might try, like the ones I listed above. If, however, she is being denied the ability to try out due to low grades related to her disability, then the mom should proceed to fight for that. That school district, coaches, parents and players should remember one thing: Everyone deserves an equal chance — students with IEPs and students without them.

Dr. Wes: I’ve said before that you have to be a psychologist, attorney, educational advocate and a host of other professions to fully wrap your mind around the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and here we are again. IDEA allows for “supplementary aids and services” for students to be included in an IEP. Section 300.42 states that these aids can include “other supports that are provided in regular education classes, other education-related settings, and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings, to enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.” So it seems pretty clear to me that access to and participation in sports could be included in the IEP if it can be demonstrated to help the child succeed in school.

However, the definition of “participation” concerns today’s writer (a school employee), and for good reason. If the mom is asking that her daughter’s IEP allow her to play, perhaps benching more athletically deserving players, I would agree with the school. An IEP cannot require that a child star each year in the high school musical or be captain of the cheer squad. It can only remove barriers to trying out. The only academic barrier I am aware of in cases like this is grades. And for kids on an IEP, grades should not be the deciding factor, which is where we’ve tended to disagree with state athletic associations.

I emailed the mom and she assures me that her definition of participation did not require her daughter to play, but she did want her to be on the team. She adds that there is no limit on the number of kids allowed on the team, and thus her daughter would not be displacing anyone. She also notes that the school failed to offer any alternative solutions and did not provide the required written documentation as to why they refused the accommodation. This means they were out of compliance with IDEA.

So I thank you for requesting clarification. It never occurred to me that anyone would try and shoehorn their child onto a sports team by misusing an IEP — only that they would try to remove existing barriers, which is, in my opinion, exactly what this mom was trying to do for her daughter.

Comments

Kendall Simmons 2 years, 6 months ago

Interestingly, I had a coworker in the field of disabilities who often worked with parents and schools on finding/making accommodations related to IEPs. She occasionally found herself being asked by parents/schools to "take their side" and her response was always "I'm not a lawyer. Sorry."

However, she would tell the story of the dad who used to be on the high school school swim team (also swam in college). He really, really, really wanted his son to be on the swim team, too. Absolutely 100% wanted his son on the school's swim team, and demanded that his son be included on the team. To him, the IEP absolutely did assure his son a place on the team.

The problem? His son had cerebral palsy and was a lousy swimmer. The much, much bigger problem? His son didn't want to be on the swim team!!! He wanted to be on the debate team...which was more than happy to have him!! Fortunately it finally worked out in the son's best interests...but the dad fought it tooth and nail for quite a while. Threatened to sue...all that stuff.

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adminsup 2 years, 6 months ago

Interesting point about the school not providing the documentation to support the denial. The law requires the school to provide complete documentation explaining the reasons and supporting documentation for any denial. If the school could not or did not provide this it is a denial of FAPE since they are unilaterally making a decision for the child. I looked, and could not find any appropriate documentation, legal precedent etc which could support a decision to deny a request of this nature. Since it would be well within the school's ability to grant the request I see a problem here. The same argument used by the letter posted here could be used to deny smaller classroom settings saying that the lower student count per teacher is denying other students an appropriate education who have classes with more students per class. Of course no one would suggest this, however once schools are alllowed to make decisions about a student with disability based upon what is best for everyone else it opens up the possibility the school will abuse this avenue. After all it is an IEP (individualized) what part of individualized do the schools not understand? Can anyone suggest what would be the proper documentation required to provide a parent requesting this type of accomodation? If there is no documentation, it is not a legal denial.

If the school needs to add additional children to not deny anyone an ability to participate (not start or be the star player) they can add a "B" team, many schools do. Not having the funds to allow all required to participate is also not a valid excuse as this can be used to deny all sorts of other accomodations. Someone please come forth and provide the appropriate documentaion and references required to present a parent and let's clarify this issue.

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adminsup 2 years, 6 months ago

Interesting point about the school not providing the documentation to support the denial. The law requires the school to provide complete documentation explaining the reasons and supporting documentation for any denial. If the school could not or did not provide this it is a denial of FAPE since they are unilaterally making a decision for the child. I looked, and could not find any appropriate documentation, legal precedent etc which could support a decision to deny a request of this nature. Since it would be well within the school's ability to grant the request I see a problem here. The same argument used by the letter posted here could be used to deny smaller classroom settings saying that the lower student count per teacher is denying other students an appropriate education who have classes with more students per class. Of course no one would suggest this, however once schools are alllowed to make decisions about a student with disability based upon what is best for everyone else it opens up the possibility the school will abuse this avenue. After all it is an IEP (individualized) what part of individualized do the schools not understand? Can anyone suggest what would be the proper documentation required to provide a parent requesting this type of accomodation? If there is no documentation, it is not a legal denial.

If the school needs to add additional children to not deny anyone an ability to participate (not start or be the star player) they can add a "B" team, many schools do. Not having the funds to allow all required to participate is also not a valid excuse as this can be used to deny all sorts of other accomodations. Someone please come forth and provide the appropriate documentaion and references required to present a parent and let's clarify this issue.

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